Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Violence on the Bus

The bus to work from the station is normally quite a sedate experience. We trundle through suburban sprawl, see the odd patch of woodland, a few tower-blocks, some shops. People get on and off, the windows are steamed up so you wipe a small hole and peer through it. It normally rains.

There are a lot of rowdy school kids that get on the bus en route, and if you catch the right bus then you'll be crammed in with them. You can listen to the latest gossip about that cow Sheila and catch up on tinny, bass-free r & b and rap tracks that leak from iPods and cheap MP3 players. The boys look moody, and remain silent, usually with hoods pulled right up, hiding their faces.

Today there's a small scuffle at the front of the bus. This is normal - often some kid will be feigning amazement that his bus pass is mysteriously out of date. And then outraged that he has to pay.

'I've only got a fiver.' [surly youth]

'That's okay, I've got lots of change.' [smiling driver]

Surly youth slams five pounds down on counter and looks like he's being robbed as he rolls his eyes.

But today the drama is more dramatic. There's a lot of movement, and from the back we see a ball of fight appear and then make its way through the bus. There's one white kid flailing around and three black kids kicking him and punching him in the head. One of the attackers grasps two posts with his hands and proceeds to kick violently with both feet.

This goes on for some time. One man next to me starts to shout things like,

'Leave it!' and 'Get off the bus!' But it has no effect.

No one offers to help.

Occasionally snowballs fly in through the open door to hit the victim's head, perhaps thrown by a slightly less aggressive member of the attackers. This seems poignant at the time.

Eventually it all stops and the three punchers go upstairs whilst the bleeding recipient looks a bit haggard and sorry for himself, but just takes a seat and says nothing.

I imagine that the bus driver will call the police, but no, the doors close and we carry on as usual. I peer out of the window and feel unbearably sad.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Cheese and Onion man

On the train I have my eyes closed. A state close to sleep, but not quite. I hear the noises of the train and am conscious of not having enough knee room. I would like to sleep, but find the worry of sleeping past my stop always prevents me. I have woken up in railway sidings before - an odd experience as you have to wait, alone, for the train to sneak back into the station before you can disembark. The train is cold, silent, dark, spooky even.

So, in near-sleep I hear the doors open and a terrible smell enters. Jesus, I think to myself, what a terrible smell. The smell gets stronger and I calculate that the person responsible for the smell is getting closer. Closer. Closer. Closer, and, yes, it sits down next to me.

I pull a long face, keeping my eyes closed, designed to make my nostrils into vertical slits, but it doesn't work and the smell is relentless in its assault.

I try and place the odour. The best I can come up with is bad teeth, cheese and onion, and farts.

How can this man not know that he smells this bad? Does he not have eyes to see the reaction that must come over people as he talks to them? Does he think everyone reacts that way to everybody else? Does he not observe?

I'm always disturbed by people's lack of observation. How oblivious to the world many of us seem. Perhaps I'm too conscious - I'm forever moving out of people's way, stopping making irritating noises, holding open doors, catching bags knocked off tables, ducking under street gossipers' wildly used hands, and so forth. So, to not be able to notice the fact that you stink, to me, is, frankly, a poor show.

I wake myself up and read my book, perhaps visual sensory input will help distract from the olfactory? The first line I read is a man saying the words, 'Ah, perfidious Albion'.

Perfidious is a word that likely to get you into fights in certain pubs in the country. What the hell does it mean anyway? I know it means nasty, somehow, but the exact definition escapes me, I promise to myself to look it up later (disloyal, deceitful, base, low...)

Thinking of rough pubs brings to mind a pub in Carlisle I was once passing through on some long forgotten journey: I was in the bathroom of the pub, washing my hands (some of us do), when a terrier-looking, thin psychopath walked in and stared at me in the mirror. My heart skipped a few times, not for joy, and I ignored him.

He is eyeing up my jewellery it seems, as he turns to me and says,

'Put this in for us.'

And hands me a gold earring hoop with a Christian cross dangling from it.

I stare at him and he turns his head to one side and sticks an ear in my direction. It has a silver stud in the lobe.

Now, intimacy in the bathroom may be something that women are comfortable with, but your average man doesn't generally do anything more personal than stand next to other men with his penis in his hand. Hmm, well, I suppose that does seem quite intimate.

Anyway, with my shaking hands, and eyeing the prison-esque neck tattoos, I manage to pry out the stud. My fingers are waxy. I resist the urge to sniff them.

The hoop is hard to get in and I twist his ear quite hard, reddening it severely. He doesn't seem to notice.

Finally it's in and I tell him.

He merely nods and walks out of the bathroom...

All this thoughtfulness has allowed me ten minutes respite from stink-man, but I'm brought back to reality by another smell. Ah, oh my god it's beautiful. It's the smell of heaven after an eternity in the dunghills if hell.

The stink-man has opened an orange and the smell has flooded the whole train cabin. I sniff it in, greedily.

It doesn't last though, and a few minutes later I'm back in farty cheese and onion land.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


The train is like a hospital ward. There are the sick, the coughing, sniffing, sneezing, sleeping masses. Whistles, snores, grunts, belches and farts punctuate the rumble of the train. If you are lucky enough to sit next to a toilet you get the odd authentic bed-pan smell. Then there are those that are like the visitors, sitting next to the sickly - those that read, talk, play with their phones, laptops, look out of the window in a bored fashion, or generally entertain themselves. They have the air of peole who would rather be somewhere else, but stoically are resigned to their fates.

At East Croydon station the cummuters queue for the doors, on both sides. The inner commuters vacate their seats a good few minutes before the train pulls up, and wait, staring out of the door windows. As they slow to a stop, their eyes meet the outer commuters. Time slows down considerably as the train finally slows to a complete stop and we all wait for the open door button to illuminate. These commuters are seasoned, none of them jab at the button angrily before it lights up - they know it is fruitless.

The doors slide open and its all the outer commuters can do to sto pthemselves rugby pushing their way stright on. It is the hardest tast to stand and wait patiently as the inner commuters exit onto the platform through the single width gap left for them. Even before we're all off the outer commuters are pushing their way on, racing for that precious window seat.

This train is't very busy and that's all the race is for - a window seat, as everyone gets some kind of seat in the end. These commuters don't even play the sitting in the aisle seat game - they just go straight for the window in a way that you wish people on buses would do.

Back on the platform I'm walking up one of the many long ramps that lead up to the station exit. It's quite sedate going up the ramp - the people allplod along, heads down, some smoking cigarettes that were list just seconds after exiting the train. I walk faster and try to overtake the mass, but this is risky as overweight, late commuters are appearing at the top of the ramp and thundering down them to try and catch the train with the closing doors, gaining momentum as they do so, reaching speeds they could never reach on the flat. And completely unable to stop if an obstacle, such as myself, gets in their way. It is safer to simply to duck back into the saftey of the sedate uphill-walking crowd and watch them thunder past, red faced and panting as their train doors close and whistles are blown.